|Journey (2013) Kodakotype by Pants|
I don't want to write this post, but I have to. I must register my horror, (yet again), at the despicable way we Australians are treating asylum seekers.
The reason for my reticence is that everything that can be said about our diabolically creative ways of shunning people in distress has already been said and everything I think about it, I've already written. Where there's clamouring, there tends to be little clarity, and I don't want to contribute any more to that. What is required here is a rational, practical analysis as opposed to foot-stamping and wishing the perceived problem out of existence.
There is no such thing as a 'discussion' on the subject of boat people in Australia. We ordinary folk fall into two camps - those of us who remember our evolutionary biology and accept that people will do anything to survive and prosper and that it is our duty to help them,
'Today, to him gazing south with a new-born need stirring in his heart, the clear sky over their long low outline seemed to pulsate with promise; today, the unseen was everything. the unknown the only real fact of life.'
... and those of us who just don't like strangers,
'Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wide World.'
And then there are the politicians,
'Toad, with no one to check his statements or to criticise in an unfriendly spirit, rather let himself go.'
It so happens that Ma Pants re-gifted, beautifully wrapped, my childhood copy of The Wind in the Willows last Christmas. I read it again and was reminded of how remarkably unevolved we are as a species. It's true that we Australians are a classless society, but only in the sense that we have no class.
We've not advanced our views of how we accommodate desperate people fleeing persecution in the last seventy or so years since the first Jewish refugees from Nazi-infested Europe arrived. The formula has been crude but effective. We beat them with sticks until they wow us with their interesting food and then we pretend we've loved them all along. That's our world-leading multiculturalism, that is. We live in a bubble of delusion that we are the most liberal, compassionate and tolerant people on earth.
The question of how we respond to asylum seekers is not a conscious argument we have in Australia. It's a game of enforced tic-tac-toe played by politicians with we, the people, falling into teams of noughts and crosses at their whim. Our everything-old-is-new-again Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd is a champion at deal-striking, hand-shaking and campaigning. We all know that the deal he's made with our poor neighbour, Papua New Guinea to take all the asylum seekers off our hands is an election tactic. Everyone accepts it as political expediency. We appear to have a prime minister whose ruthlessness is serving our own mean-spiritedness rather conveniently. There's a word for inflicting cruelty on people for political purposes. That word is torture.
'I'm such a clever Toad.'
Of all the commentary on this latest proposal to send boat people permanently to PNG, one cut through. I heard someone on the radio say that if the government was proposing to send live cattle off to a developing country where there were no proper accommodations nor guarantees of their safe and humane treatment, there would be uproar. There was once another society who treated a group of people as if they were worth less than livestock. We might want to reflect a moment on what happened there. This is not the 'oursourcing of humanity' as some are saying but the complete suspension of it. The worst kind of coward is one who is even afraid to help the weak and suffering. We, as a nation, are that kind of coward.
The human cost of our policy idiocy over the last fifteen or so years since former Prime Minister John Howard took a combative stance on asylum seekers is incalculable but the financial cost of our disasters should be easy enough to tot up. In the last couple of days, asylum seekers detained on Nauru have burned down a facility valued at around $60 million. Desperate people do desperate things. It isn't the first time and it won't be the last. Why would we not expect people to protest over ill-treatment?
Not only are we wasting vast amounts of money in order to appear to be saving a little of both money and face, we are now proposing to inflict social pressure on a country that has plenty of problems of its own. It's not a stretch to imagine that a new ethnic group of people who are unhappy with where they've been sent and are unable to find suitable work will demonstrate that unhappiness and cause resentment in the host population.There will be conflict which we will tut-tut about from a safe distance.
Ruined lives are costly, both financially and socially. How much more simple and compassionate would it be to provide displaced people with homes that they can pay off with the money from wages they are allowed to earn in a country with plenty of space and capacity for economic growth? For some reason, most Australians regard such a notion as an impossibility. Our generosity of spirit it seems extends no further than to sponsor an African child's education for $15 a month. It's simple, it's clean and you get lovely drawings in the post.
Australians just don't get this but we are one of the few countries in the world that can afford to model what the corporate world loves to call 'best practice'. We should take a vanguard position and trial solutions for everything from solving the energy, food and water crises to resettling as many of the dispossessed as need our help. We should be grateful for the opportunity it set the standard and invent the methodology for making the world a safer and fairer place. Having a useful purpose in the world would make us better people and just might take our minds off obsessively guarding what we think we've got. From where I'm sitting today, it doesn't look like much.
'It's a goodly life that you lead, friends; no doubt the best in the world, if only you are strong enough to lead it!'
All quotes from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.